Will there ever be an end to the confusion of grief?
Today I awoke to a wonderful text from a wonderful man asking me to be his Valentine? I slept last night in this man's sweatshirt that smells like him, and every time I woke up I would thank God for sending me Practice (a name I will explain in a bit.)
I texted him back and replied that I will be his Valentine for always and forever and then . . . the tears began to stream . . . a trickle at first and then the dam broke! Cry and cry and cry! And then I remembered that last year I took a rose out to the grave and that this year I should probably do that, too. More tears!
I really thought this Valentine's Day would be filled with all joy. You see, I am just so thankful to our sweet Lord for His grace and kindness in bringing the kids and I Practice. Last Valentine's Day - my first without Chad and in the darkest days of my grief (four months after Chad's death) - was HORRIBLE!!!!! Absolutely terrible. Add insult to injury, I was working at a flower shop and was filling out cards to 'lovebirds' all day (PUKE!)
So, as the anticipation of this holiday has approached, it has not been with fear and trembling . . . but with gratefulness in my heart to God, and Practice. You see, I was not expecting this. In fact, I wasn't looking for it and I wasn't even sure I wanted it. I knew that to fall in love again would mean having to trust that my heart would not be ripped in two again. I had gotten myself to a place in the grieving process where I knew I was o.k. as ME. I didn't NEED anyone. The kids and I were operating in our 'new normal' (again, PUKE!) and I wasn't sure I wanted to put my heart out there knowing that if I fall in love again there are no guarantees that he won't die too. In fact, (I'm sure you are all smiling!) the guarantee is just the opposite . . . yep! At some point this one will die, too!
Then a friend asked me if I would be willing to try a blind date. Sure. Why not. I needed some practice if I was going to get back out there. I thought having someone to go to dinner with, or chat with at the end of the day, or go to a movie with would be fun.
Enter ‘Practice.’ (His real name is Jim, by the way.) He lives about 35 minutes from me and is a farmer. I know, I know . . . we ALL thought I would find some metro-sexual musician from Nashville, didn’t we? He is divorced (a biblical divorce on his end, for those of you already beginning to look down the end of your noses) with three children. Well, I had already informed the Lord (not long after Chad died) that I did NOT want a divorced man with three kids! Too much baggage! (Like I don’t come with an entire entourage of baggage . . . nice, Sarah!) And a farmer? They still have those these days! Yes, I can be a real, stuck-up snot sometimes. My pastor looked at me before this date and said, “Sarah! Farmers are wonderful people and they are VERY smart.” (He was right!)
So, I truly went on that first date just for practice. What I was NOT expecting was to fall in love.
Let’s be real now, folks. The first thing I noticed about Practice were his looks. (Maybe I should just leave it at that and let you figure out if they were good or bad . . . Nah!) I had certainly never been on a blind date and truly the most nerve wracking part of it was having NO idea what he looked like. Of course, there are pictures of me everywhere . . . so Practice knew what he was getting when he called to ask me out. He told me that he is bald and a mutual friend had informed me that he ‘wears it well.’ I had NO idea what to expect. Well, let me just tell you . . . he wears it VERY well. Practice is VERY good looking AND, this is girl talk now . . . guess what? When he took his coat off at dinner he had a short sleeve shirt on and guess what was under those short sleeves? VERY nice biceps :-) Well, I noticed those RIGHT off but tried hard not to let on.
And then this wonderful thing happened . . . we started to talk. We talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and haven’t stopped since. Some nights we talk on the phone for three or four hours. We are both exhausted because with six kids between us and two full-time jobs the only time to talk is late at night. A sacrifice I am willing to make :-).
The truth is . . . that not long after we started dating I began to realize that Practice had all of the qualities that I had been praying for since Chad died. Honestly, and I do mean honestly . . . I did not think I would ever find them again. Not all in one package. I thought I would have to compromise. I had had the very best already, and I was not willing to compromise, so I just figured I would be alone.
This week, as I was working on writing the book, I was reading through my journals. In December of 2007, just about eight weeks after Chad died I cried out to Chad in my despair and asked him to please send us someone who would love us. Someone who would love the WHOLE package . . . me, the kids, the ministry, AND our memories of Chad. Then I made a list and asked Chad to work with God to find this man. Practice has EVERY thing on the list! God is truly amazing!
On our first date, Practice looked at me during those hours and hours of talking and said, “I want you to know if we continue to date, that I understand that a part of your heart will always belong to Chad and that I will never try to change that or take that away.” I know that I began to fall in love with him right then and there.
He is kind and loving and wise and smart (yes, there is a difference between wise and smart!) He is a very good daddy and has wisdom in how he handles his babies and all that they have been through. He loves God and loves Christian music . . . especially this local girl from Midland now, I guess :-). And, have I mentioned the biceps?
Here we go, now. Here is me, being transparent with you . . . I was NOT prepared for how hard this would be! Practice has put a beaming, happy smile back in some deep, dark places. Places that I didn’t know if I would ever feel life in again. But the truth is . . . everyone says ‘just have fun.’ Well, that’s great when you are 17 or 20. That is when most people date, you know. A large part of those reading this blog probably dated when they were young and hopefully, will never have to date again. Well, let me tell you . . . this is NOT fun! You see, I am a wife. It is very deeply who I am. I was a good wife, a great one, maybe, and I loved every minute of it. I know how to do it! To now have to go back and be a girlfriend is both frustrating and painful. You see, I know what it is to lie in a man’s arms all night long. To be held and caressed and snuggled so close. And now, night after night we must say goodbye and leave one another’s arms. That hurts.
One of the most fascinating parts of all of this is that I am finding that the ‘wife’ parts of me that died the day Chad died are coming back to life. I want to cook for him and clean his house and help him plan birthday parties and . . . I want to pray and pray and pray for him (the MOST important role of a wife, by the way.) It is clear to me . . . and perhaps a discussion for a different blog . . . that there IS a distinction between wife and mother. While they may go hand in hand, they are two VERY different roles.
Oh, don’t get me wrong . . . it is fun! Today we get to spend the entire day together and I absolutely cannot wait! All EIGHT of us. The six kids and Jim and I. (His kids are wonderful, by the way.) How wonderful! The kids adore one another. We continue to pray that God will lead and guide and direct us and that He will continue to confirm all of this through these precious children . . . and He does.
But dating at 37 and 34 with six children watching every move . . . six children who, themselves, have all been through enormous hurt and upheaval in their lives . . . is not fun . . . it is terrifying! There is no ‘manual’ written on how to do this (please don’t start sending me books . . . I don’t have time to read. I would be open to the Cliff’s Note version via e-mail, though :-)) As a mama and a daddy – our hearts long to do this right so that we make this as easy as we can for the babies. There is nothing ‘normal’ about ‘us.’ We are not 20 year olds trying to find our way through college and wondering who to go to the next big game with. We are thirty-somethings with kids and careers and our own homes we are trying to maintain and extensive friendships and the list can go on and on.
And then add into it . . . Chad. My beloved. And on this Valentine’s Day 2009 . . . I am SO very, very thankful that there is a new smile in my heart named Practice . . . but at the moment that Practice texted me at 6:38 this morning and asked me to be his Valentine . . . the tears began to roll. The reality is, I will NEVER stop grieving Chad. No matter who or what comes into my life. No matter what joys come in the future . . . Practice was right, back on that first date . . . There IS a part of my heart that will always belong to Chad. It will always mourn the loss of what I THOUGHT was going to be my life. I am thankful for hope and new beginnings, but I will always be sad for what ISN’t. It is all very confusing deep inside. How can I weep for one man and long to be in the arms of another?
Practice called, and I was crying, and he listened and loved on me and told me he’ll get here just as soon as he can . . . and the truth is . . . today, I think I get to have TWO Valentine’s . . . one here on Earth . . . and one in Heaven. I love you, Practice! I love you, Chad!